Until recently, I don't think I've ever truly known the value of a good, healthy circle of female friends.
Don't get me wrong. I've had some amazing friends in my lifetime, and still do. But historically, I usually had only a few "best" friends at any given time. The circle wasn't very broad. And I saw to it that certain circles didn't mix. There was separation between different aspects of my life -- not a great deal of overlap.
Overlap is hard to control, you see.
I've learned that trying to control is not just wasted effort; it's exhausting.
I used to become anxious or stressed when parts of my life would overlap. I would worry if people from my professional life would get along with people from my personal life and vice versa. I would worry if this person would judge that person. I would try to orchestrate who sat next to each other and encourage this person to talk to that person, even giving them helpful topics for discussion.
I both laugh and cringe in embarrassment when I think of it now. How much fun did I miss in my efforts to control different scenarios? And why did I do it?
I'm sure the root of it is insecurity. (Isn't it always?) But what I now know is that it's very freeing to just let things happen organically. And who cares what anyone else thinks anyway? Now I simply put a group of people together and let them sort it out. And it's a beautiful thing. Even if their only common denominator is my love and affection for them, so what? We all win when such opportunities for new experiences are created.
And rather than have a 'work' self and a 'home' self and any number of other 'selves'? Now I'm just MYself. And that self can flow effortlessly in and out of every area of my life. There's no worrying about overlap when one just 'is'.
Having cancer forced me to give up trying to control my environment. It also forced me to drop a lot of masks and pretenses and just be. And I've had a hell of a lot of fun in the process.
I've let go and just enjoyed the people around me ... people I've known for awhile as well as people I've just met. I've learned the value of strong female friendships ... friendships where there is no competition, no putting on a face for one another. Friendships where you can sit around in yoga pants, no makeup, and even unbrushed teeth and speak honestly about anything and everything. Where you can cry freely and laugh inappropriately. Friendships where you can be real. Really real.
Some of my friendships have deepened in this process, becoming more special and important than I ever could have dreamed. And new friendships have formed that are stronger than surface relationships I've had for years.
It took me awhile to accept unconditional friendship, to receive without immediately reciprocating with a gift or payment to even the score. To stop keeping score at all. Now that I have, it's such an amazing gift. I feel 'a part of' in a way I never have before. And rather than lament what I've missed all these years, I'm just moving forward with gratitude and the hope that I'll be a different kind of friend -- a better, more authentic friend -- in the future.
There's no way to adequate quantify the importance of community, whether it's the mom community, the cancer community, the organic community, the professional community, the blogger community, what have you. Whatever your story, whatever your interests ... your people are out there.
My advice? Open yourself up and find them. Then hold on to them.
And the ones who don't fill you up and love you no matter what? Let them go. They're not really your people.
Images via Brooke Kelly Photography